Decayed Papyrus Hints that More Dead Sea Scrolls Remain

Analysis of a jar lid from the region suggests it once held one or more scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls may be the most important biblical archaeological discovery of all time. The 2,000-year-old papyri, mostly fragmentary and incomplete, have provided important insights about the origins of the Bible and about the people who were its early scribes. The scrolls include some of the oldest surviving texts that became the Hebrew Bible, plus other extra-biblical manuscripts. Most scholars agree that Qumran housed an Essene community of Jews who were responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, though some believe the scrolls may have been hidden by other Jews to avoid detection by the invading Romans.

Jar Lid from Qumran


Recent research reminds us that the caves of Qumran held more, possibly much more, than has been recovered. The Network for the Study of Dispersed Qumran Cave Artefacts and Archival Sources (DQCAAS) has announced the discovery of decomposed papyrus on the lid of a jar from Qumran.

The owner of the lid thought that it was contaminated by hardened bat dung. However, a lab analysis revealed that the residue was from a sedge, probably papyrus sedge, not native to the Dead Sea area. The researchers from DQCAAS conclude that a jar probably fell, dislodging the lid; the papyrus scrolls then decomposed over the intervening centuries before modern discovery. This supports their theory that many more Qumran caves once held scrolls, and leaves open the tantalizing, if remote, possibility that additional scrolls may yet survive to be discovered.

Jar Lid Showing Papyrus Residue

Not Bat Dung — Photo: DQCAAS

The analysis was conducted by DQCAAS, led by Prof. Joan Taylor of King’s College, London, Dr. Dennis Mizzi of University of Malta, and Prof. Marcello Fidanzi of Universita della Svizzera italiana. Dr. Kamal Badreshany, of the University of Durham, led the scientific analysis.


This post originally appeared in Bible History Daily in December, 2019

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Dead Sea Scrolls History: Looking Back on the Last 75 Years An Interview with Dead Sea Scroll Scholars Peter Flint, Martin Abegg and Andrew Perrin.

Qumran Clothing Suggests Scroll Authors Were Essene A study of 200 textile fragments from the Qumran caves suggests the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were part of the local Essene community.

Where Were the Dead Sea Scrolls Found and Who Put Them There?Can the Qumran caves shed light on the mystery of who left the Dead Sea Scrolls behind?

Did Archaeologists Really Discover a New Dead Sea Scroll Cave?Did archaeologists find a new Dead Sea Scroll cave west of Qumran?

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